After a decent fried potato meal I find myself obliged to note that currently the only Ukrainian TV news service I’m able to stomach without vomiting is ICTV‘s Fakty. Among other things, I remember when Dmitry ‘Radioactive ash’ Kiselyov worked as a news presenter on the very same channel.
Back in April 2014 I had a discussion which basically boiled down to ‘but Ukrainian media also have propaganda!’. Back then I was naїve enough to deny that, but then again, April 2014 was a different time. There was a general line about separatists in place, of course, but the news won’t reach the wartime reporting level common today, when every news broadcast on TV has an obligatory ‘news from the front’ section. There most assuredly is propaganda now, and Ukrainian media are not too picky about proof or sources, but it is hardly what my Russian opponent was implying then.
Basically, since the 90s Ukrainian media existed under a what some may call a social contract: whereas in Russia the state trampled over NTV (which I have fond memories of back in the day), in Ukraine Kuchma basically gave up and the media got nobbed up by different finanical groups, i.e. oligarchs. Ukraine therefore enjoyed a much more freer media than most other ex-USSR, although exactly how free it is is a subject for debate. I wouldn’t call Japanese press clubs ‘free media’, although they meet the standard despite effectively being owned by large business conglomerates. Much like in Japan, Ukraine’s oligarchs are more feudal rulers than businessmen, and the various media are only free so long as they maintain the narrative their owner sets. Therefore it is little surprise that much of Ukrainian media are smear jobs.
There are exceptions, of course. You have to pay top dollar to get prime time at Savik Schuster’s Show, for example, but this same prime time is pretty much required to make it as a politician. You go there, pay Schuster big bucks (at least some of which go to whatever channel broadcasts his show), then you spend two hours shouting at the top of your lungs about how the government is corrupt/traitorous/bad etc, then you suddenly find yourself propelled into a seat in the Rada, with all the privilege (a 6 500 UAH salary, for example) it entails. Yeah, it is basically like that.
In most other cases, the media obstinately push someone’s line, be it Kolomoyskiy (1+1), Akhmetov (Ukraina), Lyovochkin & Firtash (Inter), Lviv mayor Sadovyi (24 TV), or whoever else. ICTV belongs to the (ostensibly pro-West) Pinchuk, so it’s slightly tolerable, and you probably should give credit to Poroshenko’s 5th Channel for being critical to the government (and Poroshenko himself, sometimes), but everything else are mostly soapboxes for media personae affiliated with any given oligarch. This is how 24 TV hosts Semen Semenchenko (whose name sounds suspiciously like semen), the legendary battalion commander-turned-MP, and his rants on how the government is treacherous, corrupt and indecisive (while the military answerable to said government had to bail Semen’s ass out of the fire more than once), how Inter hosts Borislav Bereza, the (ostensibly Jewish) Right Sector spokesman-turned-MP, and his rants on how the government is treacherous, corrupt and indecisive, or how 112, apparently affiliated with Ukraine’s former interior minister Zakharchenko (no relation to DNR’s Zakharchenko, a former electricity technician), hosts the Schuster Show, which makes a living by offering a soapbox to everyone willing to pay top dollar – in this case, Yulia Tymoshenko and her rants about the government’s ‘tariff genocide’. This is why it rapidly became unwatchable: just by tuning to any of those a putrid wave of populism and chest-pounding washes over you, and it just never stops.
There are a few more exceptions. Hromadske was palatable once, since it presents itself as an ‘independent’ news broadcast, but ultimately it too subscribed to the poor fact-checking school of thought that permeates Ukrainian media. And I’m pretty sure nobody watches the national broadcast service, Pershiy Natsionalny, despite the best efforts of people like Michael Schur.
And then, of course, you have the online media. Here is where it gets the most horrible, because in modern Ukraine, Internet is where you go to wallow in hysteria and ZRADA about basically everything. Complaining about the government is practically Ukraine’s national sport, far outmatching freestyle jumping and association football, but here is where it gets intolerable. Basically, Ukraine was so shocked by the events during Maidan and afterwards, by Russia taking Crimea and starting their insurgency in Donbass, that at some point some, if not most Ukrainians just lapsed into hysteria mode. Keep in mind that these same Ukrainians were largely apolitical and content (beyond the constant complaining about the government) before Maidan, but the experience (and the continuing war) drove them to fits of panic and incoherent rage at just about everything. Remember how I said that the Ukrainian government gets flak no matter what it does? this is why. The average Ukrainian on the Internet is panicking, angry, raging and depressed at the same time. For them, nothing changed, everything remained the same, the prices are rising, the government are sellouts, the generals are incompetent, Ukrainian troops are underequipped and underarmed and thus die in droves every day, and this happens because the government are sellouts and the generals are traitors. When this combines with the newfound nationalistic fervour all too common on the Internet, the ZRADA achieves its ultimate form: everyone except TRUE UKRAINIAN PATRIOTS are sellouts, especially Poroshenko-Valtsman, who sold out Ukraine for his Lipetsk chocolate factory and is now out to kill all the TRUE UKRAINIAN PATRIOTS using the war and the traitor generals. All TRUE UKRAINIAN PATRIOTS therefore must dream of the day ‘our boys’ return from the war and reenact Berlin circa 1919 in Kyiv, after which everything will be fine, a strong and patriotic Providnyk (that’s Ukrainian for ‘Fuhrer’) will assume power, and TRUE UKRAINIAN PATRIOTS will take back Donbass, Crimea, Rostov, Kuban, Green Ukraine, whatever, the decadent and traitorous West (which also sold Ukraine to Putin long ago) be damned! All this will happen if the Internet patriots sit at home by their computers, preferably while living in Rivne, Ternopil or Ivano-Frankivsk (i.e. as far from the front as humanly possible), or, even better, while gastarbeitering in Krakow or Bratislava, and write ZRADA-infused comments under every single Twitter or Facebook post. When they write ZRADA-infused comments under every single Twitter or Facebook post which does not criticize the government, the armed forces, the West or the horrible Poroshenko-Valtsman, it probably makes them spontaneously orgasm. I apologize for the long-winded introduction, but it is necessary to understand why Ukrainian online media are bloody atrocious. They will happily post everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, if it fits the ZRADA narrative – nothing will ever change, corrupt government kills our best people, oh and did you know Poroshenko has a chocolate factory in Lipetsk, Russia? They will post it without any proof whatsoever, or without any concrete proof, taking care only to load their posts with as many accusations towards the government as they can cram into one, and all because it gets them the page views, the likes, the shares, everything. By comparison, posts about how shit actually gets done and Ukraine succeeds is immediately dismissed as ‘propaganda’, ‘sweet lies’ or ‘chocolate bots’ outright. The fact that this same narrative constantly seeps forward on Ukraine’s favorite TV channels (Inter, 24 TV, 1+1, and Ukrainians would probably watch the Schuster Show if it aired on Russia’s Channel One) serves to reinforce the ZRADA crowd’s worldview, thus ensuring Ukrainian news sites get their views and likes, and thus ensuring Ukrainian news sites will continue pandering to the ZRADA crowd – usually by using Facebook or Twitter posts as their source, turning Ukrainian online media into a repost carousel.
All this is why I generally abstain from watching Ukrainian TV and the reason why I avoid Ukrainian news sites like the bubonic plague. This is also why I’ve acquired all the hair-triggers I did, and ultimately why I write some posts in this blog the way I do – because, frankly, the constant ZRADA just drives me up the fucking wall.
How people manage to do anything productive with this kind of damned if they do/damned if they don’t attitude is frankly beyond me. I wouldn’t be able to, for example, but then again, maybe this is why I’m sitting here writing this post and not, say, working in some government ministry for 2000 UAH/month (i.e. barely 100 dollars).
Yes, government salaries here are as low as that.